A dozen years before Baz Luhrmann shared his epic new recipe for Australian fondue, his Romeo + Juliet distilled the essence of Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers for the MTV Generation, hyperactive production design bulldozing any remnants of iambic pentameter. But for all its literary sacrilege, Luhrmann’s version still proves more valuable than Rome & Jewel, writer-director Charles T. Kanganis’s soapy, contemporary L.A.-set adaptation, which reworks the dialogue entirely into an interracial hip-hop musical. Son of a preacher man, tender-tough Compton teen Rome (Nate Parker) is scolded by his pop to stay away from them rich white girls, but he can’t stop aching for the mayor’s daughter, Jewel (Lindsey Haun), after crashing her sweet-16 soiree. It’s lust at first sight, or so say his simplistic, sanitized rhymes: “Don’t mean to treat you like a piece of meat/I’m like a dog in heat/Everyone sees you bring out the animal/cannibal/in me.” The song-and-verse gimmick wears thin, as does the film’s naive, black-or-white take on black and white (one of Jewel’s spoiled Abercrombie douchebag friends actually wears a shirt imprinted with “Honky”). Most irksome is the post-tragic ending: After the couple off themselves, their fathers unite at the funeral to discover their newfound color-blindness. And that’s how racism was solved, kids.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 26, 2008